Category Archives: Inspirational

When planning our next steps: consider successes or failures?

29fll.jpg.w300h206I started off today in a quandary about the next step in my writing and publishing journey. If I continue to throw myself into making a go of indie publishing, then I need to come out with another book soon. I have another book, Jordan’s Shadow, almost ready.  Jordan’s Shadow is a creepy YA gothic suspense novel. (If you want to read the beginning of it, see the form over on the right side of the page.) The manuscript is in the hands of Beta readers and hopefully the changes I’ll need to make based on their reading won’t take long.

But…around the end of 2013, I submitted a proposal for Jordan’s Shadow to a small press that I thought would be the perfect fit for it. They liked the proposal and requested the full manuscript—a great sign. I sent them the full manuscript on January 2 and was warned that it could take them one to two years to make a decision. One to two years!

I had also sent a query letter to another small press about Jordan’s Shadow. Now, a query is the very first step in the publishing process—just a letter asking for permission to submit a proposal—and then you hope after that they will request the full manuscript. It took this press five months to respond to my query. It was a very nice response, expressing interest and asking for a proposal. But five months to respond to a letter! Based on that, I would assume it will take them eight or nine months to respond to a proposal. And if they ask for the manuscript? Good grief, probably another year or two.

Actually, none of this surprises me, since I’ve spent several decades playing this game. I thought I’d given it up. Still, it’s awfully hard to just say no to a traditional publisher that’s considering your work. I’ve been out there on my own for a few months now—footing the bill all by myself, marketing all by myself. The idea of having someone else take some of that burden off my shoulders is absolutely delicious.

As I’ve been racking my brain about which direction to go from here with my writing—throw myself completely into indie publishing and get to work on Jordan’s Shadow, or sit back and wait once again on my personal Holy Grail, the traditional publishing contract—I ended up reading two different articles in which writers talk about success and failure.

Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

One is a post by Dan Balow on The Steve Laube Agency’s blog. The other was assigned reading as part of a Mythgard class I’m taking on the Harry Potter series.—J.K. Rowling’s commencement address at Harvard University a few years ago.

Balow maintained that your successes will ultimately determine your writing path, not the plans you make for yourself. Rowling seemed to be saying the opposite—that your failures can be the most important, and ultimately most beneficial, parts of your life.

I honestly think, though, that both authors are getting at the same thing. Rowling said, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.” (Writing novels, fortunately for us!) Failure, she said, was important because it was a “stripping away of the inessential.” She was no longer wasting time on what didn’t matter, because she had failed at those things and had to leave them behind, anyway.

Balow says, “your future is determined more by your successes than by your plans…Across all of the arts, there are actors, authors, singers, comedians, painters and composers who at one point early in their lives had dreams that were much wider or at least different than what they are currently experiencing, but their success in a certain arena has determined their future.”

In agonizing over the next step in my writing career, I asked my online marketing group for advice. One of them told me to ask myself what I really want from my writing—which is funny, because when I spoke to a creative writing class recently, I told them the same thing. I still think it’s good advice. However, as Balow says, we need to “avoid over-thinking and over-planning. Especially for Christian authors, there is the underlying power of God who often makes no logical sense to us as to what He is doing, at least until we can see what His purpose really is.”

I can worry over a decision until my head aches—which it currently is—but ultimately, God will determine the outcome anyway.

And that’s really a good thing, isn’t it?


The rest of Pete’s story


Pete wants to drive.
Pete wants to drive.

Last time, I started the story of how Pete the Pit Bull Puppy was abandoned at my mom’s house, and how—one day after I wrote in my prayer journal that I was praying for “guidance about Pete”—we thought we had found him a great home. But two days later, we heard he had jumped a gate at their home and run away.

I found this out on Wednesday night, October 30, and hardly slept. Since we’ve taken care of about a million strays and feral cats over the years, we’ve had our share of animals that just vanished, and it’s always tough. When do you stop worrying over what happened—or what is happening—to them? But still, this was worse.

Maybe because he was a pit bull, and we were hearing too many stories of what bad people do with pit bulls.

The next day, October 31, I dragged myself into work really late, exhausted and miserable. My boss came in to talk to me about something, and I must have looked like…well, something really scary, because she said, “Are you okay?”

Like an idiot, I started crying and telling her about Pete, including some pretty graphic pictures of what I thought was probably happening to him. My boss is so amazing. She’s not even an animal person and doesn’t get the whole pet thing, but she started tearing up, too. And she told me to go out and look for him. I took her up on it, taking time to make flyers before I left. Flyers that promised a $100 reward. I’ve done enough marketing lately to know you’ve got to grab folks’ attention.

I figured I would go to the area where Pete was lost and look for him, and put up flyers if I didn’t see him.

I ran into a couple of problems right away. One, I didn’t know exactly where Pete’s new family lived. I had just been given the name of the road and told it was in Byron, a small town close by. But according to Google maps and my GPS, there was no such road in Byron. There was a road with that name fairly close to my job, though, so I decided maybe it went all the way to Byron. I would just get on that road, set my GPS for Byron, keep my eyes open—and pray for guidance!

Not only did I not see Pete, but the road ended pretty quickly. I just kept following the GPS to Byron but didn’t see anywhere to post signs. Just ditches and woods, mostly.

Finally I popped out of the country roads and found myself on the Main Street of Byron, where a crowd was gathering and setting up tables, and they were preparing for the Halloween Festival. Oh yeah, that’s right. It was Halloween.

I maneuvered through the crowds and out the other side. Drove to the Interstate and asked some people at stores for the road I was looking for. No one had heard of it. I was upset beyond belief by this time, and it was starting to get dark. I started to hit the interstate and take the direct route home.

Then it hit me. All that crowd of people gathering for the Halloween Festival—half the population of Byron, it seemed! Vendors setting up tables to give out candy to kids—tables where half the population of Byron would be passing by. What better opportunity to put out flyers?

I was feeling pretty down and hopeless by this time, and I’m such an introvert that walking up to strangers is hard for me in the best of times. I almost talked myself into just going home. But I almost felt God putting his hand on the wheel of the car and turning me around. I went back to the festival, and asked folks at almost every vendor table to display one of my flyers about Pete.

Almost every table, because one of the last ones was an animal rescue group’s, and they finished me off depression-wise, giving me even more horror stories about what happens to stray pit bulls and telling me what I should have done to keep him safe. That was it. I skipped the last couple of tables and went back to my mom’s house.

I hadn’t been there fifteen minutes when somebody called me from the festival and said he had overheard a woman saying, “I know exactly where that dog is. He’s hanging out at…” (and gave an address).

Off my mother and I went, following the GPS down a road in Byron to the house in question, where we were greeted by a red and white pit bull, wagging his tail and running up to the car to meet us. Trouble was…it wasn’t Pete.

Back home we went, even more upset after this disappointment. And…the phone rang again.

I picked it up and heard this cheerful, homey voice saying, “Hey! Are y’all really giving a hundred dollars for this dog?!”

“Well, if it’s really our dog,” I said.

“He got a white foot and a red collar?” she asked.

Now I started to get excited. The flyer didn’t mention his red collar, and you couldn’t see it in the photo. “Do you know where he is?” I asked her.

“Heck yeah! He’s at my house! Or sometime he at my house. He been sleepin’ under an abandoned trailer next door.”

“How can I get there?”

“Well, I’m at the festival with my niece. You can come down here to Byron to the Dollar Store and meet my husband, and he’ll take you to the house.”

I hung up and started to dash to the car, but then stopped. If these folks did have Pete, I owed them a hundred bucks. And I didn’t want to take time to go to the bank. If I have $2 in cash it’s an amazing thing. Nobody in my family keeps much cash on hand. But I asked my mother, anyway, and then my mouth dropped open. When my father passed away several months earlier, one of my cousins had pressed a hundred-dollar bill into her hand, wanting to help her somehow, and all this time later, it was still in her purse. We had a hundred-dollar bill on hand!

Wow…I’m dragging this out again, aren’t I? Let me try to skim over the next part as I…worried about meeting some total strangers at their home, strangers who figured I would be bringing money…tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with my husband to meet me there…waited in the dark to meet up with some strange woman’s husband…got in touch with my sister, who told me not to go anywhere with anyone until she got there. (Aren’t sisters the BEST!)

So, my sister and I ended up on this dark road, meeting Boo Boo. (That was the woman’s name. I swear. She was home by this time.) Boo Boo pointed further down the road, where it dead ended into woods and pitch black darkness and said, “He’s back there somewhere. There’s a bunch of stray dogs back there.”

My sister and I looked at each other. We didn’t even have a flashlight. Were we supposed to go tripping off into the dark, where we had just been told there were “a bunch of stray dogs”? And yeah, I wasn’t by myself now, but who knew? There could still be someone waiting back there to bop us over the head and rob us.

The woman was pointing back to the woods and looking at us, waiting. (She also asked if we had brought the money. Creepy.) We decided to just start calling Pete.

Which we did for what seemed like forever, but was probably just a minute or two. And all of a sudden, there he came, galloping out of the darkness like a pony, straight toward us, jumping and slobbering on us and hysterically happy.

It was one of the best moments of my life.

“So I guess that’s y’all’s dog,” Boo Boo said.

I think it was a great moment in her life, too. When I gave her the hundred-dollar bill, she started dancing around with it, and ran across the road to her neighbor and singing, “I got a hundred dollars! Just for calling them about this dog!”

Boo Boo said it was really weird, because she never goes to that festival, but at the last minute decided to take her niece. I think a lot of things that night were pretty amazing. First of all, if I hadn’t been looking for Pete on Halloween, I wouldn’t have been able to reach all these Byron people with my flyers. If my boss hadn’t let me leave work when she did, I wouldn’t have ended up seeing folks setting up for the festival. Even the fact that I had been given the wrong street name made me follow my GPS sort of aimlessly into Byron—where I saw them setting up for the festival.

And my mother even had a hundred-dollar bill.

Isn’t God good?

We decided our “guidance about Pete” was that we were meant to keep him. Instead of knocking my mother down, he’s actually discouraged her from going out in the yard when we’re not with her. We used to worry she’d be trying to carry laundry or cat food or something and fall down, and lie out in the elements until someone came home. And now out there in the country, when she’s by herself, she has a great guard dog patrolling the place. The cats have a gate across the porch and their own sanctuary, so she can just open a door and set their food out, and Pete can’t get to them.

And Pete is where he’s supposed to be.


Pete and Mina.
Pete and Mina the cat learning to co-exist.